Kolohe Andino with coffee and Target logo in Fiji
"There is no credit crisis for Kolohe Andino. Visa shines its malevolent 20% interest rate on his angelically blonde hair…" | Photo: ASP/Kirstin Scholtz


Top secret production for Super Bowl ad! Cell phones in tubes!

I am, currently, in Tahiti and you wish you were too. The sun glows pink, palm trees rustle in a tropical breeze and Kolohe Andino films a top secret Visa television commercial with a giant, agitated crew of 70 at Teahupo’o.

For those who have never been, Teahupo’o is far grander than the imagination. The town sits at the very end of the road underneath towering green crags fronted by a crystalline lagoon. The wave, a short boat ride out the front, thunders and thunders and thunders and spits. Even the most jaded surf journalist can’t help but stare, open mouthed, for hours while sitting in the channel. The whole mise-en-scène is far from Tahiti’s capital, Papeete, which is, in turn, far from the worries and cares of a western world caught up in loan defaults and a credit crises.

But there is no credit crisis for Kolohe Andino. Visa shines its malevolent 20% interest rate on his angelically blonde hair. The young man once told me his friends call him “Corpo” and in Corpo Andino because he rides for Target, Red Bull, Oakley and, at the time, Nike (now Hurley). Many surfers would have been ashamed but Kolohe was proud. He believes in the best. And, as far as credit companies go, Visa is the best. Their earnings far exceed both Mastercard or American Express.

And the television commercial really is top secret, though corporate veils cannot block an island’s rumour mill. They say that the woman in charge is mean, like Anna Wintour, and fires multiple people a day sending them home in shame. They say the giant, agitated crew of 70 eats so much that a food shortage lurks. They say that the commercial is for the Super Bowl. They say that its narrative arc includes Kolohe ordering a pizza on a cell phone while standing in a heaving tube.

He zipped by me on a ski, while I was sitting in the channel, mouth agape. He did not stop to say hi but his eyes appeared very mischievous. I could almost feel him spending the thousands of dollars I owe Visa. His friends may call him “Corpo” but his name really means “li’l rascal” after all.


Kolohe Andino portrait in Hawaii
The teenage Kolohe Andino, some years before the ominous thunderclap of form on the World Tour. | Photo: Morgan Maassen


The little teenage millionaire and that insinuating smile and those winking eyes! From 2009.

Target is a department store chain providing a wide variety of goods to the consumer. Everything from milk to clothing to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for $9.99. Due its tremendous size (over 1200 stores in the United States) and buying power (over 64 billion in revenue) Target can offer exceptionally low prices on their complete range of products.

Size and buying power on that scale strike fear into the heart of the surf industry. Billabong, for example, has revenue of one billion. Australian dollars.

The surf industry, as a whole, has been successful in keeping non-endemic companies, like Target, out by trumpeting the idea of core as well as organizing successful marketing campaigns and making a desirable product. If, however, a non-endemic company, like Target, was accepted by even a plurality of surfers the ground would quake. Target could sell boardshorts for less than half of what Billabong or Quiksilver could. If those boardshorts were not seen as kookish because, say, a handsome young man named Kolohe Andino sports the Target bullseye logo on his board, it could cause a flood.

With the idea of core no longer essential, other non-endemics could get into the surfwear game. Like Adidas (11 billion in revenue) and Nike (proper. Not 6.0. 18 billion in revenue). Shadowed by giants, the surf majors would face their biggest challenge in history.

Target just signed Kolohe Andino to a deal. He used to ride for Billabong. Graham Stapleberg, VP of marketing, North America, for Billabong says, “It was a good four year relationship that Billabong had with Kolohe, and we certainly helped elevate his profile on the international stage. He definitely has talent and we wish him all the best in his future. I don’t see the fit with Target at all; it is generic mainstream retail where surfing doesn’t belong.” Long live the core!

I meet Kolohe Andino at Irons in the Fire, clubhouse for the famed San Clemente municipal golf course. It is a mission revival-style bar/grill catering to upper middle class whites. The San Clemente high school golf team lingers on a practice putting green next to the front door, waiting for their coach. They wear red polo shirts and khaki pants. They are upper middle class whites. People who work at Target also wear red polo shirts and khaki pants but are never upper middle class whites.

Kolohe is at an outdoor table, fresh off a plane from New Zealand but fresher from a surf at T-Street. His hair a sun bleached halo. He sips a Rob Roy and checks a new BlackBerry.

C: Are you tired?

K: Ahhh, I get used to the travel. It’s still fun, you know. But it feels good to be back home. I was with my dad on the road so that is cool too.

C: Are home for a while?

K: Tomorrow morning Nike is flying me up to Portland for some discussions. I want to design some sick shit. Then I am out to Australia again.

C: You have a whole new slate of sponsors, Young Money. Tell me about Target. You are causing earthquakes with that one.

K: What do you mean?

C: I hear you are the next Shaun White. That Target is going to create a whole line of business around the Kolohe Andino brand. The floodgates have opened. Non-endemics! Surf companies are running scared.

K: Ahhhh…

He glances at his BlackBerry, takes off his sunglasses (black aviators), rubs the bridge of his nose and studies me.

K: Target is a great company. You know, they are providing great support, but look at where the sticker is.

One of his gorgeous Mayhem rockets is resting against his chair. I look. A red and white bullseye maybe three inches in diameter is back near the tailpatch. Saltwater drips reflect the early afternoon light and I put on my sunglasses (tortoiseshell aviators).

C: So what are you saying? The rumors aren’t true?

K: Look, Shaun White is a legend. He is an Olympic gold medalist and the absolute top of his sport. He is sick. And I haven’t really done anything yet. I would love to get to that point some day, but it all depends how my career goes. I guess.

He says the “I guess” without a care in the world. His voice so flat. So confident. He sounds like George Clooney saying, “It all depends on how the night goes. I guess” when asked if he will end up with a beautiful woman. Pre-ordained. 

He continues.

K: Right now Target is super great. They are sending me on boat trips with friends. They are helping me do whatever I want to do. They are very open and not aggressive at all. Not pushing their own, like, thing. It’s great and we will see where it all goes.

C: Will shoppers be greeted with giant posters of you doing hot aerials when making their purchases? How will Target use your image?

K: No, no, no… they won’t do that. I am not a big enough name. I’ve got the stickers on my board. And that is it, for now.

C: How did the romance start? You and Target?

K: My manager, Mark Erwin, is also Shaun’s manager so he just works it all out. He’s a great guy. And that is basically that. There is no conspiracy. No big deal.

He glances, again, at his Blackberry and we both get up to leave.

Kolohe Andino doesn’t golf. He is 15 years old. The day after tomorrow he is renting a limo and taking the hottest seventeen year old girl in San Clemente, Maddy Forrester, to the winter formal. He would have rented a sports car but doesn’t have his license yet. We talk about tuxes on the way out and he asks me if he should pair it with Converse. I say no, only patent leather Ferragamos. He nods. The golf team coach has arrived and is giving a motivational talk. None of the red polo’d student athletes are paying attention. They are staring at Kolohe. He is wearing all black.


Lone surfer in lineup


Work hard, save your money, buy a piece of paradise and watch life crap on you. A weekly online serial.  

Five days a week, fifty two weeks a year, for thirty years is seven thousand, eight hundred days. Eight hours a day for seven thousand eight hundred days is sixty two thousand, four hundred hours.

This is what I paid for my security, for a chance to finally relax and live a life.

It was a close thing. The whole WorldCom fiasco set me back a few years, and an ill advised dalliance in day trading set me back a few more.  But I beat the race against social security and I can finally tell the world what I’ve wanted to for the last thirty years.

You can go fuck yourself. All of you.

Decades of busting my ass, eyes on the prize, and what do I get? A wife who leaves me. Leaves me because I’m not willing to cripple my future to put a junkie son through rehab, again. That boy had been a disgrace since the day he dropped from his mother’s womb. Even as a child, he was a liar, and a cheat, and a thief.  So, why am I the bad guy? Why, after feeding him, clothing him, and educating him, why should I be willing to try and save a dirt bag drug addict who’s just going fall off the wagon the moment he gets out? It’s his whole generation, a bunch of entitled, spoiled brats who think the future should be handed to them on a silver platter. That they shouldn’t have to work, to suffer.


And, of course, when the police finally pulled his corpse out of some shooting gallery deep in the ghetto, who’s fault was it? Not mine, I’ll tell you that.

Dead son, dead wife. To her credit, she remarried quickly, at least sparing me the indignity of supporting some withered old hag’s descent into dotage. When her new hubby flipped the their car on a wine tasting excursion to Napa, his reflexes muddled by a combination of room temperature Brie and piss yellow Chardonnay, well, I wasn’t happy, exactly. More like relieved.

But, it’s all come together, finally. Decades of work, a couple hundred thousand dollars, and a sheer, blind commitment to my goals has paid off. The condo is finished and I get to take possession of the place I will die in.  Alone, if I have any luck left.

Two bedrooms, Spanish tile in the kitchen, blue tile in the bathroom, creme colored walls. Exactly as specified. My balcony looks down on a head-high swell unfolding across the pointbreak I’ve coveted all these years.

Those were the best days of my life. Late teens, early twenties, surfing the Point until my arms were rubber, until my eyes were on fire. I told myself that, one day, I’d own a piece of her. And now I do.

The rest of my boards arrive with the furniture tomorrow. In the meantime, I retrieve my longboard from the spare room, and paddle out, into my wave. It’s steeper than I remember and I’m having a hard time making the drop. I can hear the snickers of spoiled Orange County day-tripper brats as I paddle back out. One of them blatantly stuffs me. I kick my board at him and miss.

“I tell him to watch his mouth, that this is my wave, that I’ve been surfing since his parents were children. He spits in my face and pushes me off my board. I take a swing at him and he ducks it.”

He paddles back out and starts screaming at me. “What was that about, old man?”

I tell him to watch his mouth, that this is my wave, that I’ve been surfing since his parents were children. He spits in my face and pushes me off my board. I take a swing at him and he ducks it.

Suddenly, I’m surrounded by his little pack of cronies, all splashing, laughing, mocking “go home old man”,”don’t break a hip”,”where’s your walker?”

I’ll kill them.

Later that night I’m sitting on my balcony, drinking from a bottle of tequila. My cell has ten missed calls, all from my realtor.

“Hey, um, we’ve run into a little problem here, can you call me back?”

“Hey, I really need you to call me back, it’s urgent.”

“Listen, I know you’re retired now, but you need to call me as soon as you get this message.”

“Alright, I didn’t want to tell you this via voice mail, but we’ve run into a problem with the condo…”

And so on…

I take a swig from the bottle and dial his number.

“Jesus, it’s about time, listen…”

“Look, just tell me what the problem is.” I slur out the words.

“Well, it’s like this, you know you own the condo…”

“Damn straight I do…”
“Yeah, well, it turns out that’s all you own. The land belongs to someone else.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The land owner is claiming he never sold the property, that the condos were built illegally. That you have to either pay him five hundred thousand, or vacate the premises.”

“What about my condo?”

“He says you’re welcome to move it.”

I hang up the phone and throw it off the balcony. I don’t see what it hits.

I’m going to finish this bottle, and then open another. I wonder where you can get a gun in Mexico. How hard would it be to smuggle one down from San Diego? I gulp down more tequila, too quick, too much, and retch it back up.

God damn it.


Kelly Slater with computer
And then there's Kelly Slater, a worldly maven who squeezes himself into a little of each category! | Photo: Morgan Maassen

your guide to: americans

The people of the USA fit into five very neat categories. Cheating Californians to fashionable New Yorkers!

America is a big country. And by America I mean the United States of. No one calls Canada, Mexico or Brazil America. It is a big country, a historically young country, with varied and jaw-dropping geography. It has soaring mountains, tropical coastlines, vast deserts, teeming metropolises and small, backward hamlets. Many people called, Americans, live here. And the bigness and the many-ness and varied-ness might intimidate the non-American but it need not. Americans are simple and can be broken into five categories based upon where they were raised, as well as four outlying categories based on religion and belief.

1. Northeasterners: Northeasterners originally hail from New York or Boston or Philadelphia. They are loud and brash and love to advertise their opinions and do so with jarring accents. They love to complain about the cold and complain about the heat and complain about taxes and complain about their sport’s teams. The men bald early. The women shrink and become round with age. Northeasterners have an ethnic mix of Italian, Irish, Dominican. They work as taxi cab drivers and garbage men. They find pleasure in their sport’s teams. Some of them, in New York, find pleasure in owning the best city in the world and being fashionable and being gay.

2. Southerners: Southerners tried to separate from the rest of America during the Civil War. They loved to own black people. And so they fought the rest of America so they could own black people but they lost and now many black people are Southerners. The white Southerners say, secretly in parlor rooms, “The south will rise again!” And nobody knows what they mean by this. Nobody knows if they mean owing black people will someday become a reality again or something else. They love eating delicate fried foods. They love listening to rap music or zydeco music or country music. They move slowly and are also slow to wrath. Their accents are pleasant and their skin is, often, very good. Clean.

“Southerners tried to separate from the rest of America during the Civil War. They loved to own black people. And so they fought the rest of America so they could own black people but they lost and now many black people are Southerners.”


3. Fly-overs: Everyone in the middle. Nobody cares about them but they are the heart of America. They vote in elections. They have small dreams and drive big cars. They work in manufacturing. They are all Germans.

4. Californians: A country unto itself. Californians come from everywhere but once in California become Californians. They are vain. They make movies. The women augment their breasts and the men cheat on the women. They drink fancy cocktails and have an ethnic mix of non-descript white and Mexican. The Mexican cuts the non-descript white’s grass. Some Californians make computers and things and these Californians become very rich

5. Pacific Northwesterners: Pac-Northwesterners are only white. They live in the trees and cut the trees down for work. They listen to loud and angry rock n roll and drink coffee and drink fancy beer. They smoke marijuana and grow marijuana but all this marijuana and beer and coffee does not lighten their moods because it rains on them 325 days a year. They become depressed. They write loud and angry rock n roll songs. They wish that everyone else in America was more eco friendly but they also cut down trees for work. And then they commit suicide. Kurt Cobain is Pacific-Northwesterner.

Outlying categories:

Native Americans, which includes Hawaiians. They are angry. They feel robbed. They act out, aggressively.

Jews are everywhere, or these are the conspiracies that foment. They own Hollywood and fight with the Masons for control of Washington D.C.

Mormons are creepy and genuinely foment conspiracy.

Libertarians own guns and live in the hills and shoot at anything that moves.


Judging at the US Open
Is this really how it works? Have the internet commentators been right all along? That the process of judging surfing contests is just a debauched ritual controlled by Men of Power? | Photo: Derek Rielly


Sex for scores! Cash for priority! Men of power and their cockmongers!

It should be just another bright summer morning in Huntington Beach, California. Golden parcels of light parachute through the roofs and there is no air pollution to clutter the molecules. It is perfect, if you believe in perfection.

But the scene that greets the reporter inside the judging tower resembles Fascist Italy circa 1944. Hello Republic of Salo! 

I have been instructed, if I wish to see the judging process, to appear at the bottom of the stairs leading to the great beachfront structure at seven am. No one is there to meet me. I hear laughing (older men), weeping (very young) and some kind of barking, but by humans. I climb the stairs.

As I enter what I will later learn is called the “Circle of Overscore”, pro surfers wander naked serving food. Two of the four “studs” or “cockmongers” (a young pro chosen for his large penis) fondle each other in front of the judges, which arouses them greatly.

“I give each of these boys one nine-point-five for two turns and a shorebreak tap per heat,” shouts a judge to much approval.

During a search for the “cockmonger” with the firmest buttocks, the Brazilian Felipe Toledo is chosen and is gifted a win in the US Open, which will conclude the following afternoon.

Could it be true? Is this really how it works? Have the internet commentators been right all along? That the process of judging surfing contests is just a debauched ritual controlled by Men of Power?

Oh how I wish!

What I do find are the loveliest and keenest surf fans you could assemble anywhere. A collection of ultimate surf geeks, although all can surf very well, some at pro level, but ready and skilled enough to compute the difference between rides that may vary by 1/100th of a point. Hair splitting as a profession! It is a relentless job that gives no respite and, to the larger surf world, may seem entirely joyless. But these men love it!

“As I enter, pro surfers wander naked serving food. Two of the four “studs” or “cockmongers” (a young pro chosen for his large penis) fondle each other in front of the judges, which arouses them greatly.”

There is Richie Porta, the ASP head judge (although he has two associate head judges, Pritamo Ahrendt and Dave Shipley, that rotate through the Head Judge position at World Tour events). He’s at the US Open more as an overseer and occasional judge than in any super serious role. That’ll come at the contest in Tahiti in a couple of weeks. Of the difference between the US Open qualifier and the World Tour event, he says, “It’s like going from club football to the AFL grand final. The pressure and the nuances at the very top is remarkable. It’s that much more intense it’s not even palpable… Like, last year at Pipe. You’ve gotta have nerves of steel when it’s a game of nines. All the boys are ripping and it’s you deciding, is that nine-two better than that nine-three. At the level of the World Tour it’s that crucial.”

Next is Jeff Klugel the silver-haired former pro surfer who is head judge of the men’s heats here. He roams up and down the panel of five judges, asking the video operator to cue up various rides and says things like, “I like it, I like it. But let’s watch yellow again for a reference, the sections aren’t as critical; blue’s attack looked a little more critical in my mind!”

Rich says, “The coolest thing is, we’re all dyed-in-the-wool surf fans. I love these comparisons.”

Jeff looks at me, bouncing on his feet, and says, “At the highest level, it’s gold! Pure gold!”

The surf is two feet and will shrink toward the shore as the tide comes in. I want to find out how hard, or easy, it is to judge at an ASP event. It ain’t World Tour, I know, but it’s close. And at home my scores reflect, generally, what the judges punch in.

First heat. Mitch Crews versus Charlie Martin. A split peak. Mitch does two little tags, but with style; Maxime Huscenot, three, but with slightly less zing. I give Max a four and Mitch a three-point-eight.

I’m horrified to see the scores come in at seven and five-point-one-seven. Ah, but then I learn. You judge according to the conditions. If you score too low, says Rich Porta, “You’ll compress everything under five. We talk about opening up the scale in bad surf. Say, the surf is good in the morning and the tide comes in and wrecks it in the afternoon, like in France, Portugal or here at HB. We still have to score it out of 10, no matter what. But what would’ve been a four in the morning is now a six.”

Anyway, it’s a game of comparisons, Rich explains, and that it doesn’t matter if your scores are different to the other judges so long as you’re consistent within the heat. The highest score and lowest score is always removed thereby creating a consistent result.

Mitch swings an air. It’s not necessarily that much more difficult than the two safe backhand taps Max has just completed but there is a greater margin for error. I give it a six. It’s a three-point-six-seven.

“Eight years ago that would’ve been an eight-five, now he gets a 3.67,” says Rich. “He didn’t rotate hard, there wasn’t the trajectory in the air. The tour surfers came to us and said judge us on technicality, height and landing. Before it was ‘jump’ and get a score.”

As we get deeper into the first heat, it becomes even more of a game of comparisons. We compare Mitch’s three-six-seven air to his first wave, the five-one-seven (two turns) and three-point left that consisted of one turn.

“It’s crucial to have those smaller waves in the right spaces,” says Rich. “The surfer will come in and say, ‘My air was better than my turn at the pier…were you watching? Surely you guys know that was harder to do!’ So we don’t get flippant with our scores.”

“You’re always comparing it to that first score,” says Dylan Feindt, an American judge.

Jeff, meanwhile, is like a conductor, spinning past the judges mounted on their pedestal chairs and punching scores into their electronic boxes that may or may not be replaced by computer tablets soon.

“Let’s go to the replays!”

The replays on a smallish television controlled by a full-time video guy are brutal. What looked rad in the water is compressed on the screen. It explains a lot about why so many people lose it at home. Rich says that most judges have their scores already in their heads and they generally don’t tweak it too much after any replays on the small television screen.

The heat finishes. “Alright!” hollers Jeff. “One done!

I’m sweating. It’s tough, even one heat, so much concentration my brain aches. As the day move on my scores close in to the paid judges, but occasionally I’ll be blown away by equal scores being given to three re-entries (Brett Simpson) and Felipe Toledo (two airs, including a genuine how-the-hell-did-he-do-that-rote in the shore break).

“When we started everyone surfed the same, you were comparing apples with apples,” says Rich. “Now you’re comparing  apples to oranges to bananas and watermelons. If the surfers were to say, all we want you to score is airs, then that’s what we’d score. But it’s all kinds of surfing and the scores reflect it. If you’re not across the concept it doesn’t make sense.”

As for corruption and being blinded by a personal fav, Rich says: “I don’t care who is out there. My focus is on whether or not it’s a six or a seven or whatever and if the surf is good enough to compete.”